Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Smoldering over the Ports Continues

My Way News has the story here.
Two Republican governors are threatening legal action to block an Arab company from taking over operations in major U.S. ports and some GOP lawmakers say the deal should be closely examined.

In the uneasy climate after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration decision to allow the transaction is threatening to develop a major political headache for the White House.

New York Gov. George Pataki and Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich on Monday voiced doubts about the acquisition of a British company that has been running six U.S. ports by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates.

The British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., runs major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.

"Ensuring the security of New York's port operations is paramount and I am very concerned with the purchase of Peninsular & Oriental Steam by Dubai Ports World," Pataki said in a news release. "I have directed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explore all legal options that may be available to them."

Ehrlich, concerned about security at the Port of Baltimore, said Monday he was "very troubled" that Maryland officials got no advance notice before the Bush administration approved the Arab company's takeover of the operations at the six ports.

"We needed to know before this was a done deal, given the state of where we are concerning security," Ehrlich told reporters in the State House rotunda in Annapolis.
The Bush Administration does have a history of making federal decisions that affect regional areas without consulting those authorities. The Nuclear Regulatory Comission has caused significant meltdowns in the Hudson River Valley for the past four years. Here's one example:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday ruled that the region surrounding the Indian Point nuclear power plants could be evacuated safely in the event of a nuclear emergency, dismissing the objections of the four counties that have to implement the controversial emergency plans.

The decision was immediately accepted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which requires all the nation's power plants to have emergency plans that provide "reasonable assurance" that residents could be safely evacuated during nuclear emergencies. The NRC oversees emergency preparations within the nuclear sites themselves, and FEMA, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, oversees the emergency plans for the 10 miles surrounding each site. The NRC traditionally accepts FEMA's certification that plans are effective.

Larry Gottlieb, a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the company that owns the two Buchanan plants, said the federal agencies "must have reviewed the overwhelming evidence out there and came to the right decision."

"Now we have to look towards raising the bar and making this the best emergency plan in the nation," Gottlieb said.

But FEMA's decision was excoriated by federal, state and local elected officials and civic groups that have criticized the plans as ineffective.

"It is outrageous for FEMA to think it can override the counties who know more about the evacuation plan than anyone else," said Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano. "This is bizarre. We have told the federal government that the emergency evacuation plans for Indian Point are unworkable in a fast-moving emergency. In my opinion, FEMA's credibility is completely destroyed on this issue."

Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, whose district includes the plants, said she immediately called FEMA chief Michael Brown, an undersecretary in Homeland Security.

"I asked that they immediately rescind the decision until local and state officials feel they can support the plan," Kelly said. "I said, 'I think you tried to ram this through at any cost.'

"He was upset that I said that. He tried to defend what I think is indefensible, and he did a pretty poor job of it. If local and state officials couldn't sign off on the plan, it is inconceivable how federal officials can sign off on it."

FEMA spokesman Donald Jacks declined to comment on the conversation.


This is the first time in the 30 years the agency has required nuclear plants to have emergency plans that FEMA and the NRC have approved them without the certification of the state and counties involved. It caps nearly two years of controversy over the effectiveness of emergency plans that had been routinely approved before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Thousands of residents and more than 200 elected officials and 40 municipal bodies have signed resolutions calling for the plants to be closed because they are a potential terrorist target.

The analysis of the plans by Brodsky's committee fueled increased criticism of them last year, and prompted Gov. George Pataki to hire former FEMA Director James Lee Witt to analyze them for the state. Pataki made a campaign pledge that state action would be guided by Witt's findings.

The Witt report, made public in January, said the plans would not work in a nuclear emergency, particularly a fast-breaking event triggered by a terrorist attack. Witt also criticized the methods used to test the plans, saying FEMA was more concerned with bureaucratic checklists than in the substance of the plans.

The emergency plans are based on a pre-Sept. 11 scenario that considers an accident of limited duration at the plants. They cover the more than 300,000 people living within 10 miles of the plants and assume that most people would not know an accident had taken place for several hours after it occurred. The plans also assume that people would stay in their homes and wait until they were told to evacuate in an orderly manner, and that parents would not try to get their children from school but would wait until the youngsters were evacuated by buses driven by volunteers. The plans ignore West Point entirely, although that is the largest population center in Orange County.

As a result of Witt's report, the executives of the four counties surrounding the plant — Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange — refused to certify their plans, which form a mosaic coordinated by the state. The State Emergency Management Office also refused to certify the plans, saying that because of the tradition of home rule, the state would not try to circumvent the decision of the counties.

FEMA sought to avoid the certification process by obtaining data from each of the counties on their efforts to update their plans. Putnam, Rockland and Orange provided data to the agency, though they did not sign letters certifying that the plans were updated. Westchester refused FEMA access to its data.

The agency's regional office, which normally rules on emergency plans, disputed the major contentions of the Witt report.
The Federal Government certainly has both the authority and obligation to ensure that nuclear power plants and ports are secure. However, the local governments in which these utilities operate also have significant roles to play. Catholic Social Teaching on subsidiarity and simple common sense confirm this. When federal regulatory agencies like the DHS or the NRC make unilateral decisions without appropriate consultation with local governments, they violate those governments' proper role.

It's bad enough when these regulatory agencies do this and get it right. It's horrendous when they do so and get it wrong. The decision of the DHS to approve the takeover of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co by Dubai Ports World is that kind of a disaster.

The states affected by this decision have every right to question and challenge it. The Federal Government made this decision without even informing at least one of them. How will they face their citizens if an Al Qaeda murderer infiltrates one of these ports under DPW's nose and brings a ticking warhead with him? The Fed's decision is unconscionable.

If DPW wants to do business with US Ports, let its state-owned government implement genuine reforms. Let the United Arab Emirates become a representative government that maximizes opportunities for all its citizens. Let their society become one in which Al Qaeda has no oxygen. I would not object to a Bahrain-owned company managing operations at US Ports, for instance.

The decision to entrust oversight of six of our ports to a compromised dictatorship like the UAE is beyond irresponsible. If the DHS won't right the ship, let the governors of these states do it for them!